A Forgotten War in Gaza
Today, Singapore, 07/09/2006
The recent conflict between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel, lest anybody still remembers, broke out shortly after an attack by Hamas militants across Israel’s border with Gaza strip in the course of which an Israeli soldier was abducted. That action by Hamas was another manifestation of the war between Israel and the Palestinians in and around the Gaza strip which since early July has cost the lives of more than 250 Palestinians, about half of them unarmed, among them nearly 50 children.
While all the world’s eyes are on Lebanon, the tragedy in the Gaza strip continues unabated, mostly ignored by the media. Having gotten used to it the world couldn’t care less. This terrible indifference plays into the hands of those who either see no urgency in finding a solution or have no clue. Busy with the fallout of the conflict with Hezbollah and commissions of inquiry, in the throes of yet another governmental crisis, Israel is unable to muster the resources for a serious effort vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Having painted itself into a corner by ruling out Hamas as a negotiating partner unless a number of conditions (reasonable, but difficult for Hamas) are met, Israel remains clueless but in no hurry.
PM Olmert has spent all his political capital on the war with Hezbollah, leaving none for a moderating move vis-à-vis Palestine, even if he were interested. Agressive as ever and undaunted by his marginal performance in Lebanon, Olmert first wants to get his house in order. Meanwhile Gaza is nurtured as a hotbed for terrorism through the continuous application of Israel Defence Force (IDF) firepower resulting in considerable collateral damage and numerous civilian casualties. Palestinian Kassam missiles continue to fly from Gaza into Israel causing insufficient damage to pressure Israel to negotiate but enough to invite constant and painful military retaliation. Now if the Palestinians had Katjusha missiles, this might be another story altogether.
At the same time, the Palestinians, never at a loss when it comes to harming their own cause, refuse to get their coalition government going as long as Israel keeps Hamas Ministers and Members of Parliament in prison. The only event that could introduce positive dynamics into this mess would be a successful exchange of Palestinian prisoners in return for the Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas – such an exchange may be forthcoming in the near future.
Israel, stubbornly devoting its efforts to the urgent and not the important, is now preparing for the showdown with Iran, or another exchange with Hezbollah, or maybe Syria. Devoting significant efforts to a peace initiative vis-à-vis the Palestinians would probably relieve pressure on all fronts but until now Ehud Olmert can’t be bothered. Hamas, no matter how democratically elected or supported by the Palestinian population is just no good and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is “too weak”. And much of the world seems to concur. Iran is after all more dangerous. Not that anybody has any idea how to deal with Iran other than by sanctions or worse and not that working things out with the Palestinians wouldn’t help deflate some of Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s legitimate complaints against the West, but why try a new approach when brute force has been in practice for so long ? It apparently gives all those who practice it the satisfaction that at least they are doing something.
Just like East-Timor was screaming for an international intervention after 20 years of brutal occupation and just like in 1999 the time was right to impose a UN peace-keeping regime on a reluctant Indonesian occupying power, it is time now to contemplate the same for Gaza. The situation there is in total gridlock – Israel has proven it cannot handle the Palestinians and the Palestinians have proven that they can neither deal with Israel nor are they able to establish a functioning government in Gaza.
Unless Olmert’s Foreign Minister Zippi Livni and some Labour party members of his government coalition manage to persuade him to negotiate and unless the impending prisoner exchange is utilized to jump-start a serious political process, there will be no real alternative but to impose a UN peace-keeping regime in Gaza.
While Israel is likely to resist such a move, eventually both sides may breathe a sigh of relief if the UN would just take over and start spending the large sums of donor money available to finally relieve the misery of the 1.4 Million Palestinians pent-up in Gaza.